Never in English history was a prospective Princess of Wales subjected to more press scrutiny concerning the intactness of her hymen than Lady Diana Spencer during her courtship with Prince Charles in 1980. While there’s nothing written in the constitution stating a male heir to the throne can only plight his troth with a bride whose maiden head is still firmly attached, and nowadays it’s presumed that a female royal fiancé has indulged in at least one role in the hay with her future husband, if no one else, back in the ’80’s it was still taken for granted that when the Prince of Wales entered the marriage bed with Lady Di on their wedding night, he’d shortly be going where no man had gone before. In most subsequent biographies of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, including her secretly authorized memoir cribbed together by Andrew Morton from tapes she surreptitiously recorded for him at Kensington Palace, it’s been emphasized that she was an innocent, virgin bride whose nonexistent sexual history was whiter than her wedding dress. Even her maternal uncle, Edmund, 5th Baron Fermoy, took the unprecedented step during his niece’s courtship of granting an interview with tabloid royal reporter James Whittaker during which he declared for all the world to read that Diana had never taken a lover!
So was she really a virgin bride? Two veteran royal authors, one of whom had the early cooperation of Diana when she set out to write her biography, think not. Both Tina Brown, in The Diana Chronicles, and Lady Colin Campbell, in Diana in Private, The Princess Nobody Knows, allege that Diana indulged in carnal pleasure on at least two occasions prior to her marriage, with a different sexual partner each time. One of them, however, was her future husband, though she subsequently lied about the encounter, lending credence to the later notion that Camilla Parker Bowles was the blond who bedded Charles in his private train car on two subsequently notorious nights prior to their engagement. This denial served two purposes: it perpetuated both the myth that her cad of a husband had cheated on her even during the final stage of their courtship, and it reiterated that she was a virgin when her father escorted her down the aisle of St Paul’s.
Part of Diana’s, and her family’s, obsession with her being portrayed as the perfect royal bride stemmed from the fact that her marriage was over two hundred years in the making. For not only had Diana’s paternal ancestors been ass kissingly enthusiastic courtiers, who’d done their utmost to remain as close to the Royal Family as possible, from the late 17th century onward, but Diana wasn’t the first Lady Spencer to become engaged to a Prince of Wales. That distinction belongs to her distant aunt, who ironically enough was also named Diana.
The current Earl Spencer states in his family memoir, The Spencers, that sometime in the late 1720’s his distant ancestress, Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, who in her heyday had been the confidante and rumored lesbian lover of Queen Anne, secretly arranged for her favorite granddaughter, history’s first Lady Diana Spencer, to marry Frederick, Prince of Wales, George ll’s impecunious heir apparent. Both the financially strapped royal father and son were alleged to be highly enthusiastic about the match, especially after Sarah Churchill agreed to pay them £100,000 for the privilege of Prince Frederick taking her granddaughter’s hand in matrimony. The engagement, unfortunately, was shortly scuttled by the Duchess’ greatest political enemy, Prime Minister Horace Walpole, who feared her growing influence over the crown. He arranged instead for “Poor Fred,” the heir’s family nickname, to plight his troth with an awkward German princess from Saxe-Coburg.
From that point onward, Diana’s ancestors plotted and waited for the right moment to offer up another maiden from their clan who would forever genetically link them to the throne. Diana’s vivacious older sister, Sarah, whom she simultaneously adored and envied, nearly fulfilled their family’s destiny in the late ’70’s when she became Prince Charles’ official girlfriend. Despite his ongoing, though sporadic, conjugal attachments to both Camilla Parker Bowles and Lady Dale Tryon, Charles was genuinely fond of Sarah, and even stood by her, and encouraged her to seek treatment, when she suffered a bout of Anorexia. Perhaps in an effort to not seem like an overly ambitious aristocrat only interested in the Prince of Wales for his position, which appears to be exactly what she was, Lady Sarah foolishly granted an interview over lunch with James Whitaker and another reporter in which she declared she wasn’t in love with Charles and could care less about his title. If her intention was to pique his desire by playing hard to get, Sarah failed miserably. His Royal Highness instead decided this particular Lady Spencer was too fond of the press to be trusted, and dumped her forthwith. As Lady Colin Campbell makes clear in her Diana biography, once her older sister was safely out of the picture, Diana became determined to triumph where Sarah had failed.
A word should be mentioned briefly concerning Lady Campbell’s first, initially maligned contribution to the cannon of the late Diana, Princess of Wales’ biographies. As Tina Brown states in The Diana Chronicles, by the late ’80’s Diana and Campbell had become close enough, while sharing many friends between them, that the Princess sought out Lady Colin as a potential official biographer. This occurred at a time when Charles and Diana, and their respective informal courts, were feverishly gathering evidence of extramarital misdoing against each other in the increasing likelihood of a permanent separation or outright divorce. The late Diana, Princess of Wales, however, soon realized that Lady Colin possessed too much journalistic independence to simply regurgitate the all too one sided, and often fabricated, information Diana was feeding her. She quickly dropped Campbell, and would subsequently turn to Andrew Morton to pen her secretly authorized hagiography.
By then, unfortunately, the damage had been done as she’d already given a series of candid interviews to Lady Colin which served as the basis for Diana in Private, published several months prior to Morton’s tome. One of this memoir’s many revelations is that Diana wasn’t intacta on her wedding night, but instead surrendered her hymen in her late teens to a friend of her little brother’s named Daniel Wiggin. Slightly younger than Diana, this son of a Baronet, who at the time of the book’s publication was working in London as a real estate agent, would eventually become godfather to Diana’s niece, Kitty. His brief dalliance with Diana occurred sometime in early 1980; a time in which she’d later allege to Morton she was assiduously guarding her virginity in anticipation of being swept off her feet by the right man, i.e. the Prince of Wales. Wiggin is further described in Campbell’s book as being a darkly handsome, neither tall nor short swain that was more than a little alluring to the opposite sex. In time Diana’s multiple affairs, while both married and a divorcée, would prove such a description could be applied to the majority of her lovers.
By late 1980 her prospective dream husband, in the form of Prince Charles, was firmly in her grasp. Not only was it obvious from the moment their courtship commenced that Diana was being vetted for breeding purposes, but that the potential bride and her family were more than eager to take the royal bait. Once the tabloid press got wind of the relationship, they began singing her praises as the ideal future Princess of Wales, if for no other reason than because she was among the last eligible virgins in the realm. It was within this atmosphere that a curious story appeared in the November 16th edition of the Sunday Mirror. Entitled ROYAL LOVE TRAIN, it alleged that during the 5th and 6th of that month Diana had spent two evenings with her royal boyfriend in his private train carriage while it rested in a siding in Wilshire. Prince Charles was visiting the Duchy of Cornwall, which was close by and is where much of his income is derived, at that time. Michael Shea, the Queen’s private secretary, immediately fired off a letter of protest to the paper’s editor, who insisted on not printing a retraction because his source was impeccable. As Tina Brown outlines in The Diana Chronicles, the source for the story was one of the police officers assigned to protect the royal carriage and monitor all those who left and entered it through the evening. His reason for selling the tidbit to the tabloid, aside from monetary gain, was fury and disgust over having to spend two evenings watching train station employees periodically cleaning up human waste dumped onto the tracks from the royal bathroom because the train lacked modern plumbing.
The perceived wisdom since the breakup of Charles and Diana’s marriage, however, is that it was Camilla Parker Bowles, whose estate was also in Wilshire, who was the blond entertaining the heir to the throne those evenings. Brown asserts that this version of the story originated from two sources: Lord Wyatt of Weeford, a political insider and diarist who sent a card to the paper’s editor six years after the events occurred declaring it was Camilla on the train, and, perhaps unwittingly, the late Diana, Princess of Wales herself.
While Lord Wyatt’s reasons for perpetuating this myth remain unclear, Diana’s motivations for spreading this lie are straightforward: the Palace, including her boyfriend, were infuriated by the disclosure, immediately denied it, and Diana simply went along with the party line. Being so close to realizing her grandest ambition, and with her future in-laws and their courtiers still clinging to the Victorian notion that a future Princess of Wales must be a virgin, nothing was going to prevent her from marrying Charles. Shortly after the story broke Diana not only privately met with tabloid reporter James Whittaker and fervently declared off the record that she’d never gone anywhere near the train, providing the false alibi that she had instead been at home in London recovering from a hangover after Princess Margaret’s recent birthday party, but her uncle, Baron Fermoy, was enlisted by the rest of their family to go one step further and grant an interview with Whitaker, published in The Daily Star stating point blank that Diana had never taken a lover!
As Tina Brown points out, the notion that the police officer could’ve mistaken Diana, an unusually tall, light voiced 19 year old at that time, for the squat framed, baritone, 30something Camilla is patently absurd. Furthermore, as Lady Campbell makes clear, Diana was far too determined and calculating not to realize that a man as lustful as Prince Charles, with a proven healthy interest in sex, wasn’t going to buy the matrimonial car without taking it for at least one test drive. On those two nights while aboard his private train, Lady Spencer was more than likely sealing the deal that would shortly lead to her royal marriage. Camilla, however, did play a small role in this episode. For it was her manor where Diana was harbored until receiving a call from Charles that it was safe to be driven to the station and smuggled onboard. The complex nature of her relationship with the Prince of Wales at that time shall be unravelled in another post.
Needless to write, the post-Victorian requirement that a prospective British queen consort must be a virgin upon marriage is an anachronism that’s long been dispensed with. This episode, nonetheless, is an important chapter in the life of the late princess because it was the first instance in which Diana proved she could lie convincingly to the press. Her steadfast denial of having engaged in conjugal relations prior to her marriage would serve her all too well both as a veneer for proving she was the ideal royal bride at the start of her so called fairytale, and even more so when she turned against her prince charming during the latter part of their subsequent marital nightmare; helping provide the all too important scenario of an innocent victim abused by a philandering, morally corrupt husband that never loved her. The fact that the truth of the matter was far more complex than that, and that Diana was neither virgin nor victim while being escorted down the aisle, was of no consequence to her, and remains of no consequence to the millions of people around the world who still believe her version of the story. While one doubts the late Diana, Princess of Wales ever read The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli, she clearly understood the gist of it!